Notes from the Asylum


My son’s on spring break and my wife — a moderately functional paranoid schizophrenic — is taking a day off to spend some time with him.

She calls me at work around 11:30 this morning.

“We’re going to the Long Beach aquarium,” she says.

“Sounds like fun. Take some pictures.”

“Tell him where the camera is,” she says, putting the boy on the line. He starts whispering something that I can’t quite catch all of, but the gist of it seems to be, “It was either this or the Richard Nixon library.”

So I walk him through the process of locating the camera in my office, and he’s about to hang up when — I can tell from his surprised yelp — his mom grabs the phone out of his hand. She has evidently overheard him whispering. Whispering to a paranoid is like blood to a shark — they can sense it 1,000 miles away.

“What’s going on?” she says. “He doesn’t want to go?”

To the unsuspecting reader, this might sound like an innocuous question, but trust me, it isn’t. She’ll quickly escalate this into a conspiracy of deception despite my attempts to sidestep it.

“I don’t know,” I say. “He’s there, you’re there. Figure it out. I was just telling him where the camera is.”

“Why is he whispering? I don’t know why there are so many secrets around here.”

God only knows what “secrets” she might be talking about. A competent psychiatrist might be able to unravel it as well, if she’d ever consent to talk to one.

I would imagine that in a normal family, a mother could spend the day with her 12-year-old son and find something to do that they’d both enjoy; or failing that, would understand if the boy chafes at spending one precious day of his spring break doing anything even vaguely educational or edifying, and not take it personally, and not spin it into some insane paranoid fantasy . . . but since I’ve never been part of a normal family, I admit I’m only speculating . . .

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